Lighting Regulations on Boats & Canoes

Lighting Regulations on Boats & Canoes
Sliding through moonlit waters in a canoe or kayak is exhilarating, and navigating a watercourse at night during the dog days of summer can be a welcome relief. But if you're going to paddle the water at night, you need to understand your local regulations and make sure you are equipped with proper lighting.

Navigation Lights

There are three types of navigation lights. Masthead lights are white and usually seen on large vessels. Side lights are mounted on the forward half of a vessel and are green and red. Green is displayed on the port side and red on the starboard side. The stern light is white.

Telling Direction

With a basic knowledge of navigation lights, you can determine a vessels general direction. If you can only see the stern light, it's heading away from you. If you see one side light and the stern light, it's heading across you. If you see both side lights, it's heading toward you.


Typically, power boats and all other vessels over 26 feet long are required to have at least a stern light and side lights. Smaller, non-motorized craft are encouraged to have both side and stern lights but usually are only required to have on hand a lantern or flashlight that displays a white light.

Small Craft

An excellent choice for nighttime paddling is a small LED lantern that is often waterproof and can be easily lashed down. A bright flashlight or headlamp shining upwards will also work. Display your light so it can be seen from a 360-degree radius.


Regulations differ from state and sometimes from place to place within a state. Do your homework before going on the water. Information can usually be found on a state's Department of Natural Resources website.


Article Written By Isaac Billings

Residing in northern Michigan, Isaac Billings began writing in 2009, with articles appearing on eHow, Trails and A wilderness EMT-paramedic and wilderness instructor, Billings enjoys writing about the outdoors, running, health and nutrition. He holds an Associates of Applied Science in emergency medicine from North Central Michigan College.

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